When Karim Benzema got injured, VinÃcius JÃºnior and rarely used Luka Jovic stepped up to secure Real Madrid a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad and strengthen their grip on the Spanish league lead on Saturday.
The young forwards scored early in the second half in San SebastiÃ¡n to give Madrid their eighth straight win in all competitions and give them eight points ahead of the closest pursuer Sevilla.
Madrid’s victory came after AtlÃ©tico Madrid and Barcelona were upset at home, leaving them even further behind.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game on tough ground, but we played a great game from the start,” said Madrid midfielder leader Luka Modric. “It was a full game and that’s three huge points.”
AtlÃ©tico Madrid were down 10 points to fourth place after the defending champions were knocked out by Mallorca 2-1 in the capital.
Barcelona were 16 points behind in seventh after a 1-0 loss to Real Betis, their first loss since Xavi HernÃ¡ndez took over as manager.
Manuel Pellegrini’s Betis moved up to third place, just behind rivals Sevilla, who beat Villarreal 1-0 thanks to a goal from Lucas Ocampos.
Jovic never found his place in Madrid after his â¬ 60million transfer from Eintracht Frankfurt in the summer of 2019. He scored two goals in a season and a half before being loaned to Frankfurt. Since returning to this campaign, he had counted just over 100 minutes as a little-used substitute, scoring zero goals.
But when Benzema cautiously left the pitch grimacing in pain in the 17th minute, coach Carlo Ancelotti passed Eden Hazard and Isco AlarcÃ³n and instead chose Jovic to take his place.
The Serbian striker was essential for Madrid to tame Sociedad’s quick attack in the 48th. After VinÃcius passed him into the box, Jovic quickly returned the ball for VinÃcius to shoot in his 10th goal, second in the league behind Benzema’s 12.
Jovic headed his third goal for Madrid to secure the points in the 58th when he slipped into position to push a pass from Casemiro’s header after a corner kick.
“I can’t ask VinÃcius to do anything more,” said Ancelotti. â(But) I want to highlight what Jovic did. He played really well, gave an assist and was very precise in the goal he scored.
Sociedad, which were without playmakers David Silva and Mikel Merino, fell to fifth place after their first loss at home.
Benzema’s injury came on Tuesday before Madrid host Inter Milan to decide who will win their Champions League group. Madrid will then face AtlÃ©tico next weekend.
The highlight of the day for Barcelona fans came before kick-off, when Barcelona player Alexia Putellas presented the more than 65,000 fans with her Ballon d’Or for the best player in the world.
Otherwise, it was more frustration.
Juanmi JimÃ©nez completed a well-orchestrated counterattack to take the winner of Betis with 11 minutes left.
Barcelona had won twice and drawn once since Xavi replaced Ronald Koeman.
Betis’ goal came just as Barcelona were playing at their best after Ousmane DembelÃ© was substituted for the final half hour.
On three occasions, DembelÃ© shot right at the post before Betis caught up to Barcelona in a three-on-two breakaway.
Sergio Canales coldly drew Barcelona’s last two defenders and passed to Cristian Tello, who fed the now undercover Juanmi to pass the ball past Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
âWe have to stop these counterattacks,â Xavi said. “We had practiced exactly that, about when you have to make a tactical foul.”
Barcelona lost teenage talent Gavi PÃ¡ez in the first half to a powerful ball hit to the head. The club said Gavi was released from the hospital after an exam.
Barcelona visit Bayern Munich on Wednesday in need of a win to secure their place in the Champions League round of 16. Bayern, who have already qualified as group winners, have beaten Barcelona 3-0 in their first meeting this season.
If they lose, Barcelona would need Benfica not to beat Dynamo Kyiv to avoid elimination.
AtlÃ©tico striker Cunha broke through for the defending champion in the 68th, only for Franco Russo to lead the Mallorca level in the 80th.
AtlÃ©tico have fallen into the same trap that has doomed Barcelona, ââpushing too many players forward in search of the winner. Take Kubo scored Mallorca’s second goal in added time after Ãngel RodrÃguez threw it solo from near the center line with a pass behind AtlÃ©tico’s defense.
Diego Simeone’s side must win in Porto and hope AC Milan do not beat group winner Liverpool on Tuesday to reach the knockout stages of the Champions League.
Sevilla and Villareal also have key Champions League games this week. Sevilla need to win at Salzburg to pass, while Villarreal face Atalanta who need a draw to advance.
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